Baltimore, US Justice Department reach accord on police reform
The U.S. Justice Department and Baltimore officials have reached a deal for sweeping reforms to the majority-black city’s police department after a federal review found officers routinely violated residents’ civil rights, officials said on Wednesday.
Baltimore, which was torn by rioting in 2015 over the death of a black man in police custody, and the Justice Department had been in talks for months over reforms to the 2,600-officer department that would be overseen by an independent monitor.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Mayor Catherine Pugh will hold a news conference in Baltimore on Thursday about the decree, Pugh’s office said, without giving details.
The 2015 death of Freddie Gray was one of a series of incidents in U.S. cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to North Charleston, South Carolina, since 2014 that raised questions about racial discrimination by U.S. law enforcement and fueled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A Pew Research Center study released on Wednesday showed a wide gap between police and the public’s attitudes on race and violence. Some two-thirds of officers said they viewed the killings of unarmed black men as isolated incidents while 60 percent of the general public said they pointed to a broader systemic problem.
The Baltimore Board of Estimates, a financial control panel including Pugh, said the agreement will ensure that the Baltimore Police Department “promotes public safety in a manner that is responsive to community priorities, treats individuals with dignity and respect, and protects their constitutional rights and is fiscally responsible.”
The agreement must be approved by a federal judge.
A scathing Justice Department report released in August found that black residents were regularly subjected to stops as pedestrians and motorists, arrests, strip searches and excessive force in violation of U.S. constitutional rights and federal anti-discrimination laws.
Before the report, the police department had revised more than two dozen procedures, including changes in policies, training, a body-camera program and guidelines on the use of force.
Baltimore officials had expected to spend between $5 million and $10 million a year to implement that agreement, based on a legal framework in place when the report was released.
The report found that police stopped black residents three times as often as white residents. Sixty-three percent of Baltimore residents are black, but the report found blacks faced 86 percent of charges by police.
Baltimore prosecutors charged six officers for Gray’s death, but none were convicted.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)